Colma, CA

Visit the Town Near San Francisco that Has More Cemeteries than Residents

Diana Rus

The "City Of Souls" - that's what most people refer to Colma town as because it has over 1,509 residents and 1.5 million "souls".

Colma is a small incorporated town in San Mateo County, California, on the San Francisco Peninsula in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In 1924, the town was established as a necropolis.

According to the 2020 census, the population was 1,507.

With the majority of Colma's land dedicated to cemeteries, the population of the dead, estimated to be approximately 1.5 million, outnumbers the living by nearly a thousand to one.

This has led to Colma being called "the City of the Silent" and has given rise to a comical motto, once displayed on the city's website: "It's great to be alive in Colma".

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Holy Cross CemeteryPhoto byColma, California/ Wikipedia

Colma History

The word "Colma" is believed to be derived from an Ohlone Indian word that means "springs" or "many springs".

Colma (unincorporated) was the name given to the territory between the San Francisco and South San Francisco borders, the Pacific Ocean, and San Bruno Mountain until 1911 when the northern part of the county became Daly City.

There is still an unincorporated Colma region today, as well as the 1923 V Fontana & Co - Original Office on F Street Town of Colma incorporated.

Prior to 1872, Colma was known as "Station" or "School House Station" the name of its post office in 1869.

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Holy Cross CemeteryPhoto byHoly Cross Cemetery, Colma/ Wikipedia

Colma - the "City Of Souls"

The events that eventually led to the Town of Colma's establishment in 1924 started 75 years earlier. A large number of people arrived in San Francisco during the gold rush in 1849, but they also brought diseases that increased the mortality rate.

By the 1880s, 26 cemeteries had been constructed, with the majority almost entirely full.

As San Francisco's cemeteries became full by the end of the 1880s, cemetery owners began looking for fresh land to bury their dead.

Due to transportation reasons, Colma's southernmost point was selected. Mission Street offered easy access for horse and carriage, while street cars traveled between San Francisco and Colma. Trains ran alongside the graves, with the majority of them stopping at each cemetery.

California approved the State Penal Code 297 in the late 1890s, making it illegal to bury someone somewhere other than an established cemetery,  such as the ones created by a city, county, national, religious, or organization.

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Holy Cross Catholic CemeteryPhoto byHoly Cross Catholic Cemetery in Colma/ Wikipedia

More cemeteries than people

The first cemetery in Colma, Holy Cross, was established by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese on June 3, 1887.

The City and County of San Francisco issued an ordinance on March 26, 1900, stating that there would be no more burials permitted as the land was too valuable to be used for cemeteries and should instead be used for living.

All cemeteries received eviction notices to remove their monuments and remain on January 14, 1914. Then Colma inherited hundreds of thousands of bodies.

As there were no relatives to pay the $10.00 for removal, many ended up in mass graves.

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Aerial view of Colma, city of cemeteries, from the southPhoto byColma, California/ Wikipedia

Lawndale, which covers 2.2 square miles, was incorporated on August 5, 1924. The Association of Cemeteries was headed by Mattrup Jensen and Joe Cavalli, the town blacksmith was made Marshal.

The name Lawndale was changed back to Colma in December 1941. According to the U.S. Post Office, Southern California is home to an established Lawndale.

Due to the fact that all citizens and businesses had been utilizing the Colma Post Office with a box number for delivery addresses, Colma had been able to use the name Lawndale without facing any issues.

When it was requested to have home or business deliveries, it was discovered that the name was already in use somewhere else.

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Aerial view of 280 Metro Center (lower center) in ColmaPhoto byColma, California/ Wikipedia

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